ACLU NorCal Announces 1st Ever Complaint Database for California ICE Detainees

Josh Dawsey/The Washington Post via AP, Pool

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A California Immigration Detention Database, which can track complaints/grievances immigrants detained in California detention facilities for ICE filed to seek about inhumane conditions, was announced Monday by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California (ACLU NorCal).

The ACLU, in a statement, call the database a “first-of-its kind resource for people in California detention facilities, their families, and advocates who are interested in exposing abuse and constitutional violations within those facilities, and in lobbying for their closure.”

The ACLU NorCal noted, “California holds the third-largest immigration detention population in the country,” run by private, for profit prison companies being paid hundreds of millions of dollars per year to “warehouse people in their (six) facilities.” the ACLU added, “Immigrant rights advocates argue that these private contracts incentivize incarceration, breed impunity, and cause needless suffering for people in detention.”

The new resource tracks “grievance trends” in California’s six immigration detention centers, and the ACLU NorCal said it will “publish periodic reports summarizing key trends and highlighting individual stories from people in detention” reflecting more than 200 grievances since January 2023. 

“They document inadequate medical care, unsanitary living conditions, and staff misconduct, among other degradations to the conditions of their civil detainment,” said the ACLU NorCal. 

The database and interactive chart will be “updated with additional data points periodically, as more people in detention share their documents—and if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) makes public its record of grievances from California detention facilities,” said the ACLU NorCal.

But, the ACLU group added last Friday it “ sued ICE for “failing to respond to the organization’s Freedom of Information Act requests and withholding information on grievances filed within California immigration detention centers.”

“We are committed to working alongside people in detention to expose the cruelty of the immigration detention system—even as ICE fails to come clean about its oversight of facilities marred by systemic neglect and abuse,” said Sana Singh, Immigrants’ Rights Fellow at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. 

Singh added, “We hope that, in exposing the futility of the grievance system, this project will show that immigration detention is not a system that can be reformed; it must be dismantled.”

“People detained in California’s ICE detention centers have long decried the futility of the grievance system which, according to ICE regulations, is meant to provide a procedure by which people can ask for a response from detention center staff  ‘relating to any aspect of their detention, including medical care,’” noted the ACLU NorCal.

The ACLU NorCal explained, “Many of the grievances in ACLU NorCal’s possession, and currently reflected in the database, were filed at the Mesa Verde ICE Detention Facility in Bakersfield (CA), between February 2023 to March 2023.

A resultant hunger strike with about 82 detainees at Mesa Verde and another facility, Golden State Annex in McFarland (CA) demanded their release and the shutdown of both facilities. The strike was met with brutal retaliation, said the ACLU NorCal.

“I want people to know that the grievance system is the only way for us to address violations in immigration detention centers,” said Jose Ruben Hernandez Gomez, formerly incarcerated at Mesa Verde and participated in the hunger strike after failing to receive meaningful responses to his grievances. 

 Gomez added. “But that system is being neglected. Staff throughout the chain of command continuously deny everything and cover themselves up, so people in detention are left with no one to turn to, nowhere to go. If that can’t be corrected, we shouldn’t be incarcerating people in these detention centers.”

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